Unless they were deemed an essential service, most B2B brands had to pivot their marketing strategy in 2020 to make themselves relevant in a world of digital transformation, lockdowns, and quarantine orders. This was especially challenging for brands that depended on in-person events—from the travel industry to the hotel industry to the restaurant industry, things were going to be tough.
In this episode, Drew talks with CMO Dhanusha Sivajee of The Knot Worldwide (TKWW), a B2B2C brand that faced a unique challenge—TKWW’s network of over 300,000 vendors were about to lose their livelihoods as engaged couples updated their “Save the Dates” to “Change the Dates.” TKWW rose up to the challenge, quickly establishing a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) program for its B2B customers and compiling a comprehensive content library of best practices for the trials ahead.
Not only does Dhanusha share how the brand created meaningful content for its customers in a time of need, she also discusses how it established itself as a thought leader and helped its vendors redefine the wedding experience. Tune in for a fascinating episode that exemplifies the value of putting customer care first, especially for B2B brands that are committed to finding truly creative, renegade solutions.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
- How The Knot helped its B2B customers through 2020
- Why all B2B brands should have an advisory board
- Why “Trust” is a valid metric for B2B brands
Renegade Thinkers Unite, Episode 225 on YouTube
- WeddingPro’s Fellowship for Change Program
- [0:27] Introducing CMO Dhanusha Sivajee of The Knot Worldwide (TKWW)
- [3:00] The Knot’s Marketing Mandate for 2019
- [7:26] How The Knot Helped its B2B and B2C Customers in 2020
- [11:24] Why the Knot Established a PPP Program for its B2B Customers
- [15:08] Why The Knot Runs a Brand Ambassador Program
- [20:14] Helping Redefine the Wedding Industry for B2B Vendors
- [28:22] Using “Trust” as a Brand Tracking Metric
- [38:15] Behind The Knot’s Fellowship for Change Program
- [41:50] Dhanusha’s Meaningful Content Program Dos and Don’ts
Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with Dhanusha Sivajee
[0:27] Introducing CMO Dhanusha Sivajee of The Knot Worldwide (TKWW)“@DhanushaSivajee has a fascinating story to tell—one involving the complete disruption of her industry and an extraordinary response in an extraordinary time.” -@DrewNeisser #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: Hello Renegade Thinkers! A couple of months ago, my daughter got engaged. It was a big moment for my wife and me, as you can imagine, one we anticipated for many years—it’s our oldest child—and it was especially gratifying and fortunate because we’re extremely fond of her now fiancé.
Now I tell you this bit of personal news because, of course, that opened up my eyes to the wedding industry. I mean look, let’s face it, you don’t think about it unless you suddenly are in it. And specifically, the planning phase and the challenges of doing so in the middle of a pandemic.
So, when a PR agency pitched Dhanusha Sivajee, the CMO of The Knot, to be on the show, I thought, “Sure, why not?” They must have a B2B thing going on there, and it could be a twofer in that we glean insights for you, and maybe I can pick up some pointers for my daughter.
As it turns out—Dhanusha has a fascinating story to tell—one involving the complete disruption of her industry and an extraordinary response in an extraordinary time. So, with that tantalizing introduction, welcome Dhanusha!
Dhanusha Sivajee: Thank you. Welcome. Thank you for having me.
Drew Neisser: How are you?
Dhanusha Sivajee: I’m doing good. I’m doing well.
Drew Neisser: And where are you?
Dhanusha Sivajee: I’m currently still in New York, so I’m based out of Westchester, New York. We have a New York office downtown, but I haven’t been there since the middle of March.
Drew Neisser: There you go. Yes. We’re all in the work from home mode and it is just fine.
First, I have to acknowledge that we have a blue devil connection, you being a graduate of Duke’s Business School. And on that note, I often wonder, for the graduate students—do you have the same sort of reaction when you hear UNC that an undergraduate does?
Dhanusha Sivajee: Go to hell, Carolina. Go to hell. Absolutely.
Drew Neisser: There you go! Yes.
Dhanusha Sivajee: And that’s coming from an English person that didn’t know much beyond Michael Jordan and UNC, but then when I came to the US, it was like, it’s game on.
Drew Neisser: It’s game on. All right, thank you for that. Yes. There’s a funny story of one of my classmates who actually was able to get the initials of that phrase approved for a license plate, and he created a completely different translation. And, by the way, it’s a North Carolina license plate so, hilarious.
Dhanusha Sivajee: Oh, my goodness.
Drew Neisser: Hilarious.
[3:00] The Knot’s Marketing Mandate for 2019“Our big mandate there was: How do we help them with that many more elements of the wedding journey?” -CMO @DhanushaSivajee @TheKnotWW #RTU Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: All right, back to the main story. So, you arrived at The Knot in January 2019. Business was booming. Thinking about demographics, you’ve got all the millennials who are at peak age for weddings and the average wedding age is about right so business must have been really good at that moment. What was your mandate?
Dhanusha Sivajee: Our mandate from Day 1—I’ve actually been with The Knot Worldwide for the last 5 years, but in January of 2019 we actually merged with WeddingWire. We now own the number one and two brands in the US, The Knot and WeddingWire.
It was a really great time for us. I think it was this notion of seeing weddings getting that much more personalized, people really leaning into our apps to help personalize their weddings, so our big mandate there was: How do we help them with that many more elements of the wedding journey?
Previously we’ve been very focused on them finding the perfect vendors, their venue, their DJ, their florist. Our big mandate was, how do we lean into some other areas—like they need paper, they need to buy their registry items—and really sort of going on that e-commerce journey together with our couples.
Drew Neisser: Yeah, it’s funny you mentioned the paper thing because my daughter, I talked to her this morning about her experience on The Knot, and she said, “Dad, they even have special notepaper that you need to send to your bridesmaids! It’s like everything is thought of already…”
Dhanusha Sivajee: I love that. Thank you cards, yes. As you can imagine, it used to be “Save the Dates,” we’ve got a lot of “Change the Dates” going on right now.
Drew Neisser: What’s so cool about your industry versus so many is that there’s this sort of joy, and certainly in the planning phase it’s stressful for the people doing it, but the overall occasion, the actual wedding. So, there’s this wonderful joy on the horizon and then there’s this stress that leads up to it, I’m imagining. It must be an interesting place as a brand to be right in the middle of that.
Dhanusha Sivajee: Yeah, it’s a really interesting place. I say to my family all the time, family and friends, that I just have the best job in the world because I’m helping people navigate through some of life’s biggest moments together, the ones that hopefully they’re thinking about for many years to come.
It is such a joyous experience, and I think what we then do with our brand and our product is just make that joyous experience, I mean just looking at you now, when was the last time you had to organize an event at this size of this scale with that much detail? We get to come in and make it easy.
Drew Neisser: Well, and I think that’s really the point. You’re orchestrating something that, hopefully, you might only do once in your life. Most people who come into this are not experienced event planners, so they’re suddenly confronted with “Oh, I’ve got to do that? Oh, I’ve got to do that?” My daughter, by the way, also mentioned the list maker…
Dhanusha Sivajee: Right, you’ve then got to communicate with your guests, you’ve got to manage all of those guest communications, and you’ve got to figure out, do you want a registry, what type of registry… It’s a more complicated process than people, as you say, typically have had to deal with on a personal level unless they were an event planner, so we have the joy of coming in and just giving them the expertise to really just simplify that journey. It was, quite frankly, so they can enjoy that journey before, during, and after marriage. We don’t want this to be something stressful that, by the end of it they’re like, “Why the hell did we do this?”
Drew Neisser: Exactly. “This was a huge mistake!” Going back to 2019—it was a different world. As CMO, what were you thinking about then?
Dhanusha Sivajee: Honestly, at that point, we were thinking about how we can continue to evolve our brand with the pre-engaged audience. As you can imagine, everybody in the US—we’re very lucky to have a brand that’s been known for the last 20 years. People know us, they know to sign up, become a member of the Knot, WeddingWire, and plan their wedding with us. We were really thinking about ways that we could reach that younger demographic actually on non-wedding related topics so that we’re top of mind for them, they’re thinking about us even before they get engaged. That was a big mandate for us.
[7:26] How The Knot Helped its B2B and B2C Customers in 2020“We really had to pivot our whole B2B marketing strategy to one of enhanced education for the 300,000 vendors that we serve across what we call the @WeddingPro platform.” -CMO @DhanushaSivajee @TheKnotWW #RTU Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: So, we’re going along, we’re doing business, we’re really well known, we’re trying to expand our audience—March 2020.
Dhanusha Sivajee: Yeah, we were like, “Okay! It’s a few weeks and we’re back at work, right?” I think at first, just like the rest of the world, we thought it was a couple of days, a couple of weeks max. And then I would say it was really towards the end of March, April we started looking at the data and obviously understanding that we were going into lockdown. We realized a lot of the summer weddings that had been planned we’re now in jeopardy.
The first thing we did was actually open up a 24-hour hotline so that brides and vendors could reach out to us and just ask any and all questions. You can imagine the panic that people feel in terms of this notion of like “Oh my God, I’ve done all of this. Now what am I supposed to do?”
It was a lot of guidance and etiquette around what to do immediately, and then obviously, a year in as time has gone on, what we’ve had to do is really think about what couples need from us, and that has again been a lot of guidance on how to manage the journey. It went from just a “postpone it to the holidays,” to now, we’re seeing a lot of our couples do several events. They’re doing something called a “minimony,” which is their original wedding date, and maybe doing a smaller wedding either amongst themselves or with a smaller group of people, depending on the local guidelines. What we’re also seeing people do is start planning for a post-vaccine world where they can have a sequel wedding or an anniversary reception, which is essentially how it’s been coined in terms of that big blow out wedding that you can have when it’s safe to do so.
Drew Neisser: Just so you know I did suggest the idea of the minimony but nope, we have the venues chosen for 2022. Now, we could spend the whole time talking about B2C and the folks that come in to use it to plan it. But a huge part of your business, and this is what really interested me is, is B2B, and I’ve got to imagine in March, April, May, June, all of the companies that are on your website that are putting out there are feeling some pain. I’m just curious—what kinds of things did you do to engage this audience, to help them through?
Dhanusha Sivajee: It’s the best part of my job, actually. As much as we get to help couples plan their weddings, the best part of my job, coming from parents who are entrepreneurs at heart, was that we serve 300,000 small business owners around the country in terms of DJs, florists, caterers, etc. You can imagine, when the pandemic and lockdown went in, they were like, “What do we do?” They’ve got people management issues, they’ve got contract issues, budget issues, they’ve a million customers calling them at once, trying to reschedule, rethink.
We really had to pivot our whole B2B marketing strategy to one of enhanced education for the 300,000 vendors that we serve across what we call the WeddingPro platform. Essentially, they’re coming into our marketplace and then being connected with our couples.
The strategy was twofold. We knew that a lot of them were going through some financial issues, obviously with cash flow being a problem given that a lot of weddings were being cancelled or postponed. Postponement was the big thing really. We’ve only seen about 5% of weddings actually being cancelled, but again, people had been moving their wedding dates out.
One of the big things we did was launch a vendor assistance program. It was a $10 million fund to help our advertising, vendors, partners who were most in need. And then, as I mentioned, the bigger part was really just bringing the community together to share best practices. A lot of them didn’t have access to what was going on with PPP, didn’t know what to do with furloughing their employees. We just felt it was our responsibility to come in and share whatever expertise and knowledge we had either directly or indirectly through some of our bigger partners.
[11:24] Why the Knot Established a PPP Program for its B2B Customers“It was important for us to make sure that we were there for them during the times where they were struggling the most.” -CMO @DhanushaSivajee @TheKnotWW #RTU Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: You say it now, in retrospect, with such ease, that [you] had our own PPP like program where [you] assisted with $10 million. Let’s step back a second and just talk about the decision-making process that got you there because not every company that’s in the industries like yours, where they were really hurt, actually put some money where their mouth is and really tried to help their customer. I’m curious, how long did it take for you all to figure it out? How did you decide? Talk about that.
Dhanusha Sivajee: Yeah, it took us I’d want to say about six weeks from start to finish because you can imagine it’s conceiving of the plan, getting the dollars approved, then figuring out how we’re going to distribute the dollars. It was a combination of our sales teams, marketing teams, and then operations teams, as you can imagine, like all of that flowing through our system.
The decision-making process was relatively easy in that we knew we wanted to do it. It was our executive team coming together and saying, “Look, at the core of what we do, we are a two-sided marketplace, and we are nothing without our amazing and creative vendors.” When we think about our wedding pros who have chosen this profession, they’ve been with us through thick and thin over the last 20 years, so it was important for us to make sure that we were there for them during the times where they were struggling the most.
And like I said, we have a brand ambassador program, so we have about 60 pros that represent the industry that we talk to on a weekly, monthly basis. A pretty honest dialogue about what we’re doing well, we’re not doing so well, so they were a big part of that decision making process as well. We wanted to just hear from our advertisers in terms of, outside of dollars, what else could we be doing for them. That’s where we actually found out that they were just really lacking in resources in terms of how to handle HR and legal matters.
They’re not these huge corporations that have access to what’s going on in policy and how to handle it, so we put together very quickly—probably that education program came together in two weeks in terms of finding experts that could speak to different topics, both on these general HR/legal matters, but then also very COVID specific matters. Health and safety guidelines, what’s going on state by state, we were able to just pull that information readily for our vendors, so they had that. We just want to be a trusted source for them during these times, even though that was not what we had planned to do at the beginning of 2020, that’s for sure. The content of your writing and the education we were pulling together was not exactly what we had thought at the beginning of the year.
Hey, it’s Drew, and I just wanted to do a quick mention of a new peer-to-peer advisory network i started last year called CMO Huddles. If you’re a B2B CMO and you wish you could talk to some of the smartest peers in the industry, just go to CMOHuddles.com and check it out. There’s a little link on it where you can book a time with me to talk and see whether or not CMO Huddles could be something that you would find of value. One thing I will tell you about it is that we bring together an elite group of CMOs to share, care, and dare each other to greatness. Check it out at CMOHuddles.com.
[15:08] Why The Knot Runs a Brand Ambassador Program“We view ourselves not just as a platform that is an advertising platform, but also a platform that is bringing together this amazing community.” -CMO @DhanushaSivajee @TheKnotWW #RTU Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: Dhanusha, you mentioned a brand ambassador program where you have 60 folks that you talk to. Let’s go into that in a little bit more detail. How formalized is it, how often do you meet with them, and what’s the structure?
Dhanusha Sivajee: Yes, so it’s a pretty formal program. We pulled it together, I want to say we’ve had one for the last five years. We keep evolving it. We want to make sure that it’s representative of all of the different small businesses out there. As you can imagine the wedding industry is quite diverse, not just in the types of people that enter it but also in the different types of careers. Florists versus a venue versus a DJ.
We just make sure we’re bringing in folks that have a lot of thought leadership and expertise who are members of their community. It was really important to us—we view ourselves not just as a platform that is an advertising platform, but also a platform that is bringing together this amazing community. I’ve been part of a lot of B2B communities. I’ll tell you the WeddingPros know how to have a good time but also are really there for each other, have got each other’s backs. That’s why it felt right and very authentic to us to create this B2B program, this ambassador program.
My team meets with them on a regular basis once every couple of weeks. We also pull together hot topics. As you can imagine, during COVID, we were meeting probably more than ever. We were talking to them pretty much every day in terms of what was going on. They basically are a pulse of what’s going on with the community at large.
Drew Neisser: I’m wondering, because I believe that having a resource like this is for a brand—first of all, it’s awesome to have a community because that means they care about your brand and you mean a lot to them. I certainly know that a good review on The Knot of your brand is really important because if you get a bad review that costs them a lot of business. I imagine these folks have a vested interest in your success and their success on your platform, so participating is probably a big deal. But I’m curious—like, do you share ad ideas with them? How far does it go in terms of the information that you see from them?
Dhanusha Sivajee: Yes. It goes all the way down to sharing product feature functionality. As you know, we’re obviously bringing couples into meet with pros and then there’s a lot of communication between couples and pros that happens on our platform. Anytime we’re launching new features, during COVID there were video chats that we put in place, there were concierge bots that we put in place to help you. Since you couldn’t go offline to meet with vendors, you could actually get recommendations sitting in your living room from a virtual concierge.
They serve as our first line of defense on feedback, on feature functionality. They also serve, as you can imagine, there’s just so much communication that goes out in our regular B2B marketing platform, but during COVID, so much more… so they also serve as a nuanced way for us to kind of customize our communications as well.
Drew Neisser: Yeah, I just want to emphasize that portion. If you don’t have an advisory board, a customer advisory board—I think it’s just, for a B2B brand, you’ve got to do it. I mean it is so important for so many different reasons. This allows me to talk a little bit on—what were the strategies that actually worked during COVID and continue to work?
So, first and foremost, if you are lucky enough to be in this world that I call “essential,” then they needed you no matter what, like your cloud-based service. But if you’re not in an essential world where your product right now can make a difference, you need to do something that makes you essential. You need to do something that helps your customers.
I know that a lot of B2B brands did well in 2020 because they just leaned into their customers and said, “How can we help you, what can we do, are you using our product as well?” and many of them, like you, created products. And I think that’s so important—the ability, in a very short period of time, to say “Market changed, needs changed, we better address those changes.”
I’m so impressed with the speed at which you were able to get some of these new products in place. Was your team a little stressed out?
Dhanusha Sivajee: Definitely the front lines were stressed out. But I think what I love about our team across the board—marketing, product, sales—is they’ve always got that customer front and center. As much as they were stressed out, I think they realized that was a fraction of the stress that our small business partners were feeling. I think just a sense of duty and responsibility to that community that has been so strong and will continue to be strong was the thing that really drove us because they were being impacted in a much more direct way than we were.
[20:14] Helping Redefine the Wedding Industry for B2B Vendors“While we saw there were a lot of postponements, there were a lot of smaller, more intimate ceremonies that happened last year while people postponed the larger wedding.” -CMO @DhanushaSivajee @TheKnotWW #RTU Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: Now, I think I recall, when we had our prep conversation, you mentioned the organizational purpose and values and how those helped inform some of your actions. Am I making that up or did we actually have that conversation?
Dhanusha Sivajee: I don’t know if we had that conversation but I’m glad you brought it up. I mean, we’re definitely a values-based company, and doing the right thing by all of our stakeholders, internal and external, is something that we’ve held near and dear to our hearts through both companies being separate and then obviously coming together with WeddingWire two years ago.
But yeah, this notion of just really wanting to help our users—our couples and our small business partners—was definitely something that… We used to do stand-ups every single morning and then check-ins in the afternoon and then an end of day check-in. So, imagine you’re rolling out so many new features, so many new programs—the cross-collaboration that happens normally that would be a meeting here and there throughout the week—we didn’t have the time. We didn’t have the luxury of like “Oh, let’s meet on this next week.” We were rolling things out literally on a weekly basis in terms of new features and functionality.
Drew Neisser: I imagine, though, that despite all of these efforts, it was a hard year. I mean, if anything is postponed, that means revenue doesn’t get in the door. Your business partners, those 300,000 companies, little companies, couldn’t have made as much money as they did in 2019. I mean, it must have been really hard for the industry.
Dhanusha Sivajee: It was really hard for the industry. They were very cash strapped, as you can imagine. While people were not canceling, they were doing, I think this year we’re going to see a lot of that pent up demand come to fruition, which is going to be great for the industry.
It’s similar to how you think about the 1918 pandemic and then the roaring 20s that came after it. Everyone was like, “Right, we’re going out, we’re celebrating big.” We know that’s coming for our small business partners, but for us, we wanted to be there for them during that crucial time when there was a clash cash flow issue for some of them, so that was why we launched our vendor assistance program.
Drew Neisser: And did you exhaust the fund?
Dhanusha Sivajee: For the most part, yes. We’ve still got some dollars that we’re using, but really it was during that time when they really needed it the most. That’s how we’ve been operating.
Drew Neisser: I’m just curious—here these folks are that all their income has been pushed off from you know 2020 to 2021 if not 2022. I mean, just staying open is—I guess I’m imagining that a lot of these venues just had to lay people off and just try to keep the bare minimum to stay alive.
Dhanusha Sivajee: I think the industry was lucky. We really—you know how it was during the beginning of PPP. It was like that mad rush. We just made sure that we got them a lot of access to information quickly. As you know, information is power, and so part of this was not just our vendor assistance program but just making sure we were keeping them apprised of what was happening with the government and PPP.
The other thing that we saw happen as I touched upon earlier was this notion that we just saw a lot of change in the industry. People want counseling, as I said, they were postponing some of their bigger weddings, but we saw this huge influx of people doing minimonies. Then it was working with our vendors on creating new pricing and packaging for these new types of format weddings.
There were smaller weddings where there was a virtual component, but they still need a caterer, where they still need video photography. We also saw people do a lot of what we’re calling “shift weddings” where they were bringing people into venues. They kept the same day, but they would just bring people in different shifts.
There was the, “Hey let’s do our college friend shift. Let’s do our immediate family shift.” What we actually found was that there were a lot of our pros, we partnered with them to just educate around new formats and pricing so that they can actually continue to work over the course of last year.
That was something really interesting that came about through all of this. While we saw there were a lot of postponements, there were a lot of smaller, more intimate ceremonies that happened last year while people postponed the larger wedding.
Drew Neisser: It’s so interesting and I’m trying to find a parallel in other industries. You really helped them redefine what it is that they were offering to their customers, which is very different than most. You know, think of a software company. Microsoft Office doesn’t come in and say, “Oh, by the way, Renegade, if you used Word this way a little bit better maybe you would have this.”
There are folks—I can think of Marketo or MailChimp or folks that help me use email, they give me information. But you’re telling them really how to reshape their company.
Dhanusha Sivajee: And that’s really where the brand ambassadors came in, too, because they obviously have their ear to the ground across different markets and different verticals, so it was really this, as you can imagine, like just daily influx of information coming in about best practices, what to do, some of the pitfalls. And then it was turning around, packaging that up into blog content, into webinars, into content we had to also then put out to the other side of the marketplace.
So, as you said, it was rethinking how our vendors had to operate, then it was also doing education to the other side, so that when they came together the expectation was like, “Oh that’s what you do.” We also have a lot of couples coming to us saying, “Well, what should we do?” It’s like you get to sort of be a thought leader and shape demand, but you have to do it in partnership with those sides, which was pretty fascinating to do. Like I said, we do that on an ongoing basis, but to do it on this scale and be such a change agent as part of these two sides, the marketplace was pretty intense.
Drew Neisser: It is, and I love it. I think I mentioned I’m trying to wrap up my book, and as you talk, part of this is, you are cultivating customer champions and you are doing something which is Chapter 9, which is called selling through service. In other words, all your energy went into helping these companies with your content and your programs to survive right now and thrive later. That meant really having them rethink their business, and you are in a unique position. I think companies underestimate how much they know about the category and how helpful they can be. They’re so busy thinking about “How do I sell my speeds and feeds?” that they don’t think enough about “How can I help my customers grow?”
[28:22] Using “Trust” as a Brand Tracking Metric“The brand I trust is one that we know to be a driver of consideration and purchase.” -CMO @DhanushaSivajee @TheKnotWW #RTU Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: We’ve been talking about this notion of selling through service, about how, as a marketer—to me, this was really important in the COVID pandemic period, but I really see this as a philosophical thing that can carry you forward—I’ve got to believe, and you probably have brand tracking to prove this, that your 300,000 merchants and small businesses feel better about you than they did maybe even pre-pandemic. Have you tracked how they feel about your brand?
Dhanusha Sivajee: We do. We run a brand equity study twice a year, both with our couple cohorts and then also with our small business partners. We obviously track a lot of different metrics but the one that we were really focused on during COVID was “A brand that I trust.”
For us, that actually went up double digits. We tracked it at the beginning of January, our standard tracker, and then when we measured again at the end of last year, and that had gone up double digits. That was great for us, because that for us is a testament to the fact that, as you say, managing through service—worrying less about how much you’re paying us, why this is a great product, how many leads you are going to get—which by the way, they’re all there—but during times like this, it’s really about those additional value-added service areas, whether it’s in the form of education, access to other pros.
We found that our community just learned so much—and I don’t want to take credit for all the education we put out because that really came from so many different sources, but also being a platform to bring them together to have some of those discussions. We found a lot of pros coming together and saying, “Hey, I’ve had this client come in, they want X, Y, & Z I can’t take that because I’m already filled. Do you want to take that minimony?” etc., etc.
Drew Neisser: I want to go back to the brand tracking and the trust metric. I know it’s important; I’ve been marketing a long time. How does that, in your mind, if you’re going to your board of directors and you say, “Hey, our trust metric is up by double digits.” What do they say? Because trust doesn’t necessarily translate into revenue—how did you pick that metric as the primary metric? I mean, I know why, but I’m curious how that played out.
Dhanusha Sivajee: As you know, you’re doing these brand trackers and then you’re monitoring the equity measures that actually drive consideration, right? And so, for us, we have a very clear handle on which brand attributes, while we measure a lot of them, are the drivers of consideration for advertising with our platform and being partners with us. That’s a metric, especially for us as leaders in the space, we never want to be complacent.
There are always people that come in, other niche players that may come in and want to offer up a service, and so the brand I trust is one that we know to be a driver of consideration and purchase.
Drew Neisser: Well, and I say that, and I asked that question because we know, as marketers, that trust is everything. Trust is the difference between a brand and a generic. Brand is trust, and if you gain trust—and it’s very hard to gain trust. I’m trying to imagine in this timeframe, where, gosh, I mean again, the pain is palpable. That was probably, in many ways, the only metric that you could really look at and say is the one that matters right in the last 12 months, I would say, without argument. But again, there are other people and bean counters who go, “Yeah that’s fine, but what’s our lead count?
Dhanusha Sivajee: Well, interestingly enough, that was the driving force. As you said, that service mentality to do whatever it took to help our pros during this time, I think it’s one that, going back to the point of values, it wasn’t something that we suddenly were like, “Hey, we do this!” We do that on a regular basis; it’s part of our values. It just had that much more meaning during this pandemic. I think the focus for us was on that trust metric, but we actually did see a lot of our mid-funnel metrics in terms of traffic to blogs, webinars, it was like you know 5X, 10X what it typically is. And again, I think it’s coming off of the trust, but also this notion that people really needed that content at that time.
That mid-funnel lead generation for us actually came off of building that trust, which was sort of unexpected for us because we started with like, “We’re just going to do this because we think people need it,” but we hadn’t really set goals for like “We want this much engagement, this much reach!” All those metrics went out the doors, quite frankly, when COVID came in. It was like, “We just need to reconfigure everything that we’re doing.”
Drew Neisser: It’s music to my ears and occasionally you will meet—and I actually just finished this chapter—you will meet a marketer who will say, “Only do things that you can measure, and everything should be about revenue,” as if you could draw a direct line.
But here was this moment where you needed to show your category that you cared, because you did, and they needed to feel it and see it. It wasn’t that you couldn’t just run ads to say, “Hey, we care.” You had to do something. You had to actually take actions and do things that would actually impact those folks in a way that they can actually understand and take advantage of in the short term while waiting through this long, prolonged slowdown.
One, thank you for saying that, that you didn’t know for sure that it would impact those things, but you did it because it was the right thing to do, it stemmed from the brand values, and you knew the marketplace needed it. You didn’t know if it would drive brand.
Dhanusha Sivajee: We didn’t know it was going to drive brand, we don’t know if people were going to want to read our content, want to engage each other, turn up to webinars. You touched on the point of trust earlier, and I think trust is when your words and your actions meet, and they match. I think for me that’s what’s really important. We could all be out there saying, “Here are our brand values, here’s our purpose,” but if our actions don’t back that up, I think, over time, your customers, they feel that, they know that, and that won’t come into your numbers and revenue in the long term.
Drew Neisser: I’m reminded of a couple of things. One, one CMO was talking about—this was back in June of last year—and she said that the more information we gave away, the more our sales went up. And it wasn’t like they were trying to do it because of trying to drive sales, they were doing it, again, because it was the right thing to do in the moment.
There’s enlightened self-interest; I’m all for that, but this notion that you should be all sales all the time and just be thinking about, “What’s that click-through rate? And how’s this going to translate, and how are we going to get that?”
Dhanusha Sivajee: And “What are the MQLs on that webinar you’re doing,” right? And like I said, those numbers all actually ended up going up, but not because we had sat there and said, “Alright, we’re going to do this webinar because we’re trying to increase our MQLs by 20%.”
Drew Neisser: No, you didn’t have any objectives for them at all other than, if somebody comes to this and they get value out of it and we’ve helped them, maybe that’ll show up in the trust metrics.
Dhanusha Sivajee: Right. And this was new for so many people, so we had a lot of new prospects turn up. Again, we didn’t know that. We were just like, “We’re the industry standard. We’re there. This is our expectation. We need to help our client base.”
Drew Neisser: Wow. Boy. Were there any other metrics in your brand tracking? Because one of the things that startles me is that of the 133 B2B CMOs that we surveyed for both 2019 and 2020, less than 20% of them actually had a brand health or brand tracking study in place.
Obviously, you’re a bigger brand than some of these, and you have a consumer element which changes the formula a bit, but can you talk a little bit about any other metrics that were important in the brand health?
Dhanusha Sivajee: Yeah, so our consumer base, or our B2B vendor base, much like other industries, is made up of a cohort of people who are very established in the industry. They’ve been doing this for a decade or longer, but we are seeing in the wedding industry this new cohort of people coming in. They’ve been in the industry less than a couple of years, they’re creatives by trade and aren’t necessarily getting into this for the business side or the marketing side. They just love what they do. They want to be a DJ; they want to bake cakes.
One of the metrics we saw go up this past year was actually just “This is a brand for me” with that new cohort, that younger generation, we call them “newbies.” And again, I think that was because here they are in this new industry, COVID hit, and not only did they need the one-on-one type education that we’re putting out for any new entrants into this industry, but they needed this information even more in terms of people management, financial management, and how do I manage the crisis.
Drew Neisser: In many ways, it’s funny—you are to the wedding industry—gosh I’m blanking on the website—that Shopify is to start-up e-commerce. In many ways, you help these companies get off the ground, and that’s fascinating.
I, for one, “is this a brand for me” am grateful that you have the sorting capability for venues under “affordable.” I’m most grateful for that.
[38:15] Behind The Knot’s Fellowship for Change Program“We're going to be giving financial assistance, mentorship, and networking opportunities for black and other underrepresented groups to be able to get their foothold into the industry.” -CMO @DhanushaSivajee @TheKnotWW #RTU Click To Tweet
Dhanusha Sivajee: When are you planning your daughter’s wedding?
Drew Neisser: Well, I’m not actually going to tell the venue, but she did pick a venue yesterday, secured a date for May 2022. We’re very excited about that. But I’m telling you, the minute I said, “Hey, I’m talking to the CMO of The Knot,” she said, “Oh my gosh, thank her immensely!”
Five times a week she figured she was on the site and she knows now there are all sorts of other things. She’s probably going to have a wedding planner, but there are all sorts of other things that The Knot has brought up to her that she goes, “Oh my god! Koozies for my wedding party! Perfect!”
Dhanusha Sivajee: Exactly, why not?
Drew Neisser: Why not?
Dhanusha Sivajee: Like I said, it’s a pleasure to be able to help people through these fun, intricate journeys. You’d also mentioned earlier, just the idea of just doing the right thing by our pros. One other thing—obviously last year was all about COVID, but we also had a lot of racial social injustice going on in the world, and that was just a really interesting time for us as well. I wasn’t sure if you wanted to chat a little bit about that too.
Drew Neisser: Yeah, please do.
Dhanusha Sivajee: Even before we joined, I mean, you and I spent a lot of time talking about COVID and the impact, but just with that and then, again, going back to this idea of doing the right thing, we’ve always fought for marriage equality, for pros no matter their sex, their religion being able to enter the industry but, unfortunately, we know that there’s just a discrepancy in terms of black and other underrepresented groups being able to get the financing, the education, and networking that they need to become pros in this industry or any industry.
The thing that we’ve been working on for the last couple of months and just launched yesterday actually is a program for Fellowship for Change, where we’re going to be giving financial assistance, mentorship, and networking opportunities for black and other underrepresented groups to be able to get their foothold into the industry. So anyone that’s been in the industry for a couple of years or just about to start, we’ve got our brand ambassador program and a bunch of other judges that will be part of selecting that new group of fellows, and then we’ll be putting them through an 8 month, a yearlong program to really just give them a chance in this industry. I think again, going back to like, “What’s our responsibility?” of course we’re there to help you get leads, help you get customers and all that stuff, but we want to think about the long term, how we can really impact and change the industry for the better.
Drew Neisser: Thank you for sharing that. We will link to that website or that page on your website in the show notes for those folks who are jogging right now while listening to the show. I know Sonny Ganguly who was, I think, the CEO or very senior person at WeddingWire, and I remember talking to him years ago about how they actually turned down business because that business insisted on some policies that didn’t make sense, that weren’t aligned with the values of the organization, so I suspect that was a good match for you all.
Dhanusha Sivajee: Yes, Sonny is now involved in our international business so he’s still with us. He was part of WeddingWire, he was part of The Knot, and now he’s part of The Knot Worldwide, so yeah, I mean that was a great thing about bringing those two brands together. The cultures were very similar in terms of doing the right thing and really trying to empower couples and our pros.
[41:50] Dhanusha’s Meaningful Content Program Dos and Don’ts“Don’t be afraid of being the thought leader.” -CMO @DhanushaSivajee @TheKnotWW #RTU Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: This has been a terrific and timely conversation. Thank you so much. I wonder if, as you’re thinking ahead—for B2B CMOs who are thinking about building a stronger, more meaningful content program in 2021, maybe you could give them two dos and a don’t.
Dhanusha Sivajee: Okay, cool. I think the two dos are: make sure—and we touched upon this earlier—make sure you put together a brand advocacy group, a group of ambassadors that can help you think about the topics that you want to create. Don’t think you have to do it by yourself, and lean into them for that content creation.
The other do would be to—I guess it’s a don’t—don’t be afraid of being the thought leader. There were a lot of topics that we put out there that were like, “Ooh, is this the right time?” and “Some people may not like it. Is it going to be relevant?” but I think you need to go to where the puck is and where it’s going. Is that the American phrase?
Drew Neisser: Yeah, that’s a hockey phrase. That’s Wayne Gretzky. He’s probably Canadian.
Dhanusha Sivajee: Oh, there you go. Canadians. But this notion of, for us, sustainability, using technology in weddings, multiculturalism—it’s something we’ve been talking about for the last couple of years, topics that people might have scratch their heads and be like “Is this really relevant for our audience right now?” But you just want to stay ahead of the curve.
Drew Neisser: Awesome. All right, well Dhanusha, thank you so much for being on the show.
Dhanusha Sivajee: Thank you so much for having me and keep me posted on your daughter’s wedding.
Drew Neisser: I will definitely do that. All right, thank you all for listening be sure to check out the show notes for the things that Dhanusha mentioned.
Renegade Thinkers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Audio production is by Sam Beck. The show notes are written by Melissa Caffrey. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and the intro voiceover is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, or learn more about quite possibly the best B2B marketing agency in New York City, visit renegade.com. And until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.